Masters champion Fitzpatrick still in awe of his peers

Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick with the British Masters trophy.
Sheffield's Matt Fitzpatrick with the British Masters trophy.
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MATT FITZPATRICK sits in the familiar surroundings of a lounge at his home club, Hallamshire, having banked a cheque for £500,000 just a few days earlier.

His victory in the British Masters at Woburn last Sunday, in his first full year on the European Tour, had taken him through the £1m mark for the season and catapulted him into the world’s top 60.

Matt Fitzpatrick is embraced by his brother Alex and mother Sue after his British Masters victory at Woburn (Pictures: Nigel French/PA Wire).

Matt Fitzpatrick is embraced by his brother Alex and mother Sue after his British Masters victory at Woburn (Pictures: Nigel French/PA Wire).

Talk of the 21-year-old former US Amateur champion possibly claiming a place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team at the first time of asking was the immediate and inevitable consquence.

But the eminently likeable Sheffielder smiles when asked to sum up his initial impressions of playing for a living among Europe’s golfing elite, and admits: “I’m still star-struck.”

An incident last month gave the former Yorkshire county player an idea of the impression that he had made in a recent surge that saw him place second – behind fellow Sheffielder Danny Willett – in the European Masters and third in the Czech Masters before reaching the summit at Woburn.

During the Italian Open he found himself staying in the same hotel as former US Open and US PGA champion Martin Kaymer, of Germany, and chanced upon him at breakfast.

“I don’t know what came across me, but I said, ‘Morning, Martin, you all right?’,” he recalls.

“I then thought to myself, ‘This is Martin Kaymer, he probably doesn’t even know who you are’, but he said, ‘Good morning, Matt’.

“I was thinking that I had seen him hole the winning putt at Medinah to win the Ryder Cup (in 2012) and I can’t describe how weird it feels for me to be on first-name terms with people like that.

“I’m still star-struck, like when I’ve been in a tournament and Rory (McIlroy) has been there, or seeing Rickie Fowler at the Irish Open.”

Both McIlroy and Fowler are only five years Fitzpatrick’s senior and, along with Jason Day, 27, and 22-year-old Jordan Spieth form a vanguard of young players which carries promise of an exciting era of grand slam golf.

Golf Digest, the sport’s most famous journal and arguably its most influential, was moved this week to comment that golf’s youth movement now has an English component in Fitzpatrick.

He admits he saw the headline, but did not consider its substance.

“I saw that, but didn’t really know it was such a big deal,” he says, but concedes he did realise the significance of being congratulated on Twitter by Gary Player, one of only five men in history to have achieved the career grand slam of the game’s four majors.

I say I was impressed that he addressed the nine-time major winner as ‘Mr Player’ in his response, and with admirable and seemingly typical honesty he reveals: “I can’t claim credit for that. It was Dad who told me to do it. He said, ‘Everyone calls him Mr Player and you should’ and I thought, ‘I guess so’.”

It is not the only time in the conversation he credits his father Russell with assistance, although he was a joint recipient along with Fitzpatrick’s mother Sue.

“I am so grateful for what Mum and Dad have done,” he says, “for them taking me here, there and everywhere to competitions – and spending a lot of money to get me to places.”

He indicates that he suggested his Woburn cheque should be theirs by way of clearing his debt to them, adding: “But they are too nice and wouldn’t let me do it.

“But I will make sure I look after them from now on. We are going on holiday at the end of the year and that one is on me, I think.”

‘We’ also encompasses his younger brother Alex, 16, himself an accomplished golfer who, no doubt primed by sibling rivalry, considers himself to be the best player in a household that also includes their single-figure handicap father.

“Alex wouldn’t stop saying on Sunday (at Woburn) how good I am at golf and how proud of me he was, so I think he’s given me now that I’m the best in the Fitzpatrick household.

“Although Dad hasn’t,” he adds with a laugh that has regularly punctuated the interview.

“After I came back from the media stuff I gave Dad a hug and he said, ‘But remember – I still beat you’.” The remark referred back to the monthly medal at Hallamshire – held shortly before Fitzpatrick junior qualified for the 2013 Open at Muirfield – which Russell won at his son’s expense.

Fitzpatrick’s immediate ‘consolation’ was to lift the silver medal as the highest-placed amateur at Muirfield, which he then followed by winning the US Amateur championship at Brookline the following month, the first Englishman to achieve the feat in more than a century.

Just over two years later and his name sits on the British Masters roll of honour alongside an illustrious list of past winners that includes Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Lee Trevino and Bobby Locke.

That he won an event on only the second occasion he had featured in the final groupings of a tournament speaks volumes about both his calmness under pressure and also the refreshing perspective he has on his privileged position of getting paid to play a sport he loves.

“I know a lot of people who have been struggling to retain their card and would give their right arm to be in contention, so I just enjoyed the experience,” he says, “and I think that having won, the next time I get in contention again the pressure will not be as much as it was on Sunday. And after all, there’s a lot worse things to be doing than playing professional golf.”